Robert Earl Keen celebrates Manziel, Aggies

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
3:30
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Robert Earl KeenTim Mosenfelder/Getty ImagesRobert Earl Keen went to Texas A&M and lives in Kerrville, the hometown of Johnny Manziel.
Country singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen, Texas A&M Class of '78, has seen a lot of Aggie football in his life. It hasn't always been pretty, but then again Keen, a Houston native, was used to it.

"I came from being [a Houston] Oilers fan, which was heartbreaking, like being a Cubs fan," he said. "I felt like the Aggies thing and the Oilers thing was all connected."

Keen followed Texas A&M in the heady days of R.C. Slocum, only to be followed by, in his words, "the Coach Fran [Dennis Franchione] debacle, and then whatever that guy was [Mike Sherman] that would lose the game in the second half last year."

For a guy whose profession involves immortalizing misery in song, Keen embraced it.

"Of course, sports people take this personally, like it's all connected. All my Aggie swag and maroon-colored stuff would start drooping."

But redshirt freshman quarterback and Heisman hopeful Johnny Manziel has changed Keen's tune.

"I never got into the 'wait until next year,' because it got so bad there for a while. I didn't know if next year would ever come," he said. "But it did. This is the best year ever to be an Aggie."

Keen has touted Manziel's Heisman candidacy on his Facebook page, and believes the quarterback will win it.

"Absolutely. Look at those numbers. As they say, the numbers don't lie," Keen said. "He was the star. It was like Elvis walked on the field."

Manziel's playing style is what sets him apart, Keen said.

"It's amazing and it's exciting. In the Louisiana Tech game, he ran backwards for 40 yards. I was laughing out loud. It was like Wile. E. Coyote, like a Looney Tunes cartoon."

Keen lives in Manziel's hometown of Kerrville, and he knew of the legend before he arrived in College Station.

"My daughter went to Tivy [High School] when Johnny was playing football there. That was big. That's where I first heard of him," Keen said. "I'm used to having to tell everybody where Kerrville is. A lot of people, even in Texas, don't know where it is."

His usual description?

"I tell them, if you get sick on the way out of San Antonio on your way to California, you better stop in Kerrville, because if not, you're gonna be dead," Keen said. "There ain't nothing past there."

One more reason Keen has savored the season was an opportunity to play a show at Kyle Field the night before the Aggies' first SEC game, against Florida. It was a rare example of a band playing the hallowed venue.

"That was so exciting, because we didn't know until the day of the show that it was really going to happen," he said. "There were all these arguments between the athletic department and the groundskeepers and the yell leaders that we couldn't be on the field.

"We got to play, not on the field, but on the track right off the field. We should've been right there where the goalpost was. But that didn't happen. But other than the Aggie band, we're supposed to have the triumph of being the only honky tonk band to play at Kyle Field."

But don't expect to hear Manziel memorialized in song by Keen anytime soon.

"Every time I've ever started doing that, it just doesn't sound real," Keen said. "It's like what's called a mock epic -- building something up beyond its scope."

While Keen waits for the Aggies' Cotton Bowl matchup against Oklahoma, he'll stay busy with a steady stream of tour dates. It's the time of year for a crowd favorite, perhaps one of the greatest Christmas songs ever penned, "Merry Christmas From The Family."

The first line: "Mom got drunk and Dad got drunk at our Christmas party."

"It's definitely about a normal family. But within that Venn diagram, we're all dysfunctional," he said. "There's nobody that doesn’t have similar situations. That's probably the most common thing that anyone would ever say to me about the Christmas song. People come up to me and say, 'It's like you've been reading my mail! That's our family!'

"Well I'm glad that covers your family. I covered my family too."

And the Aggies' success certainly makes it easier for Keen to hang around Austin, the home of some old rivals where he's played for years.

"I always like taunting the tea-sippers," Keen said, citing an old nickname the Aggies bestowed on the Longhorns. "I really love that. When I first moved to Austin, I moved straight from College Station. I went from one to the other, stepped right in it. I would play the Cactus Cafe, right there on campus. And every time I'd end the show saying how I love this crowd, I love playing here, I love this place, but the biggest thing I love about playing here is that I'm an Aggie and I get a check from the University of Texas."
Dave Wilson is a college football editor for ESPN.com. He joined ESPN.com in 2010 and previously worked at The Dallas Morning News, San Diego Union-Tribune and Las Vegas Sun.

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